Casa Rosa volunteers John and Patstand with Ellen Baker, one of the founders of the food bank
Donations are sorted onto food shelves that are quickly emptied
Families in need turn to local food bank
—Margaret Nava, Signpost
According to a report compiled by the New Mexico Association of Food Banks, in 2003, twelve percent of Sandoval County’s population (approximately 12,192 individuals) was living below the federal poverty level—4,617 of those were children. Those figures were for 2003— they could easily double for 2008.
When Ellen Baker, wife, mother, and grandmother, moved to Placitas from Lima, Ohio in 2007, she and a group of like-minded volunteers put their heads together to create a community food pantry. “We wanted a place where local residents could obtain food and household supplies, and maybe sit down, relax with a cup of coffee, and share a few laughs with people who didn’t treat them like charity cases.” On August 30 of this year, that food bank became a reality.
The Casa Rosa Food Bank, located in the pink house next to Las Placitas Presbyterian Church on Highway 165, is a totally volunteer, totally non-profit organization. One hundred percent of all donations (cash, food, and clothing) is used to provide emergency supplies to approximately twenty Placitas families who have either lost a job, lost a home, have low incomes, are in poor health, or have fallen on hard times. Many times, these families must choose between paying for utilities, rent, medicine, or food. The choice can be painful, especially when children are involved. By working with local organizations such as the Jardineros de Placitas; the Placitas Community Center; local churches; the Sheriff’s Department; the Placitas Library; and local businesses such as La Puerta Real Estate, Flying Star restaurant, Clear Light—the Cedar Company, the Merc, and Wal-Mart, Casa Rosa has been able to lessen that hurt. Aside from just doling out canned food and hygiene products, they offer warm winter coats, hats and gloves, bottled water, pet food, firewood, and even help finding a job.
Volunteer Pat Luley said, “When we were working on developing the food bank, we had a meeting and people from the village who would be recipients came in and talked to us about what their needs were. One of the most interesting things they told us was that the food bank probably wouldn’t work if we just handed everyone a basket of food when they came in. We needed to develop a relationship with them, sit down and talk with them, be compassionate and try and understand their needs.”
Denys Menden, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Airborne Rangers, is thankful for that compassion. After meeting his wife Sunshine in Placitas, he worked for the Corps of Engineers, moved around for a while and then lived in Little Rock for a couple of years. “Arkansas was beautiful, but once you were there a while and got to see what was going on, you realized it was pretty ugly. There was a lot of intolerance and narrow-mindedness. The attitude in Placitas is completely different. People here accept you for what you are, and the folks at Casa Rosa treat you like family. Even though I don’t really need much, my main purpose for coming here is to bring some of my neighbors who can’t afford gas or don’t have transportation. I drive them down, help them get what they need, and then load everything in my truck and head back up to the mountains. I doubt whether half of them would make it without this place.”
Baker can identify with that. “I guess I’ve always wanted to help people who didn’t have the opportunities others had. Back in Ohio, I volunteered with the Aids Task Force, worked in a school for handicapped children and volunteered for Special Olympics. I believe that all people, no matter what their physical or financial status might be, should be treated with consideration, dignity, and understanding. That’s why I got involved with Casa Rosa.”
While most of us sit down to nice meals each day, there are many in Placitas who are going hungry. The Casa Rosa Food Bank is an ongoing project. Think of Casa Rosa every time you buy groceries, and purchase a few items to donate. Right now, they are in urgent need of canned goods and non-perishable foods such as cereal, pasta, peanut butter and jelly, dried beans, flour and sugar, toiletries, water, and firewood. These items can be dropped off at La Puerta Real Estate, the Placitas Community Center, the Placitas Library from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, or from 10:00 a.m. to noon on Saturdays at Casa Rosa. Monetary donations are gratefully appreciated, and checks should be written to Las Placitas Presbyterian Church with “Casa Rosa” noted on the memo line.
There are no “pockets of poverty” in Sandoval County; it affects all corners and all villages, even Placitas. Here, as with everyplace else, not only has the price of food increased, but higher gas prices mean people can’t afford to travel to larger towns where food is considerably cheaper. Without the Casa Rosa Food Bank, many families might go hungry. If you are financially able, please consider a donation. If you would like to volunteer, contact Ellen Baker at 867-9623, and if you or a friend needs part-time help, please contact Elsie DeLara at 867-9376.